Sunday, 18 March 2012

Risotto Bianco con Pesto

     There's something about dishes that are widely seen as difficult or tricky that always grab my attention, and if they happen to be a dish from another culture, that's even better. I am always making mental lists in my head of these dishes, and aim to make them at least one time in my life. Risotto happened to be one of those dishes. I first saw a risotto made when I was a young teen, and it was instantly added to that list. Keep in mind, this was way before I started to really get into cooking, and I didn't even like rice. I had no intention of eating it, I just wanted to make it. Now, fortunately, I love rice. I also love Jamie Oliver, so when I began to read his book "Jamie's Italy" and saw a couple of risotto recipes, I knew that this was my time, and set my mind to it. After looking at all of the recipes, I decided to stick with the basic one and make the Risotto Bianco con Pesto, since not only have I never made, but I've also never even tasted a risotto before. This risotto is just a basic white risotto, garnished with pesto, which I have also never made before!

Let's get started!

The first thing I did was make the pesto. I think pesto is pretty basic, definitely nothing to be scared of. Here's what Jamie recommends:

a handful of pinenuts
1/2 clove of garlic (more if you want)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls of fresh basil
a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil

Now, I tried to follow Jamie's directions, but honestly, I found them confusing and they just frustrated me. He recommended that you first pulse the basil in the food processor with garlic (that has been previously pounded with salt in a pestle and mortar), than take that out and pulse the pine nuts separately, then add the pine nuts and basil and mix with olive oil. To me that was just a ridiculous, and I got so confused during the process that I stopped taking pictures of it, so I recommend you do it this way:

Put the pinenuts in a pan until they are warmed through, but not browned. This will take only a minute. While this is happening, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt in the pestle and mortar. I do recommend this step, because when you pound the garlic all of the lovely oil oozes out of the garlic and that will release more flavour and aroma. Put the garlic, pinenuts, and basil into a food processor and pulse, gradually adding olive oil. I'd go slow with the olive oil at this point, you can always add more later. Once the basil and pinenuts are grounded how you want it, scrap into a bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, Parmesan cheese, stir together, and then add more olive oil to make it the consistency you want. Taste it. If you want more basil or more nuts, go for it. If you don't want any cheese, fine. It's really up to you. Set aside and cover with plastic wrap until the risotto is ready. 

Now, for the risotto!

Risotto Bianco

2 pints stock (whatever kind you want)
2 tablespoons olive oil
a dollop of butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 head celery, finely chopped
2 cups risotto (Arborio) rice
2 wineglasses of dry white wine (such as vermouth)
salt and pepper
5 tablespoons butter
4 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put your stock into a pot and gently heat. I used mainly chicken stock, but I ran out and had to add a little beef in, too. It's all good though, just use whatever you have. 

 Finely chop your onion, celery, and garlic. Heat your pan with the olive oil and dollop of butter, and add the vegetables.

Cook slowly, until soft, but not browned. A good indication to see if it's soft is when the onions are slightly translucent and easily move around the pan with the other vegetables, instead of just tumbling all over the place.

Add your rice into the pan, stirring around and letting it get toasted. When it looks slightly translucent, just like the onions, add the wine and keep stirring. Unfortunately, I only had about half a cup of wine left and didn't have the chance to go get more (poor planning on my part), so I added what I had along with a ladle of chicken stock. Overall, I used more than 2 pints of stock to make up for the wine I didnt have. You could always do this if you don't want to add any wine at all.

Once the wine has absorbed, continue to add stock one ladle at a time, on a low, simmering setting. When one ladle's worth of liquid is absorbed, add another one. This can be anywhere from 15-20 minutes, but keep stirring.

Once all the liquid is added and absorbed, taste to check the seasoning. Once that's all good, take it off the heat and add the 5 tablespoons of butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir well.

Put the cover on for two minutes and let sit. This is the most important step, Jamie says, to making the perfect risotto, because this is what helps to make it "creamy and oozy". Now for my favourite part...

The plating! Plating your dish and serving it is just a essential as eating it. This is when I especially pay attention to detail. You only get three meals a day, and every one should be treated special, so make the most of them! I put a dollop of pesto in the center of my bowl, and added some toasted pinenuts for the special touch.

This risotto was absolutely delicious. I've never had risotto before, so I didn't really know what to expect, but I loved it, and if I ever try another risotto, it will have a lot to stand up to. It was creamy and soft, it reminded me of a grown up version of mac and cheese, very comforting. However, the pesto is what really makes this dish. Without it, the risotto wouldn't be nearing as good, and I probably wouldn't like it as much. This entire dish is very rich though, so less is definitely more.

Risottos aren't nearly as hard to make as they're thought to be, in fact, it was a lot easier to make this than my souffle. However, it was tedious, and you have to have patience and be willing to stand in one place for about 30 minutes or more, which I'm usually not, so make sure you're well energized and in a good mood. Or you can dance around a bit as you stir... that works  :) Also, you can definitely adjust anything you want. I don't know what four ounces of cheese looks like, so it's possible I added way too much, but you can always add less than four if you like, or try a different type of cheese altogether. I often think that recipes like this are very black and white, when in reality the varieties are endless and you can do whatever tickles your fancy. Add a different spice, like paprika, or find a way to put some meat in there. Do whatever you like to make your risotto experience a happy one, but I would highly recommend starting here, first :)

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